Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A New Year, But More of the Same

Running Year 2014 neither started nor ended on a really good note for me.  I struggled with my injuries again early in the year  and finally had the surgery. After a rehab that was longer and tougher than I thought (but still probably not bad compared to other surgeries), I started running again, starting from the beginning with the Couch to 5K plan.

It's been a mix of good and bad results.  I think my progress had been a little slower than I thought, and I know that I had let myself get more out-of-shape than I thought, too.  In November, things seemed to take a turn for the better.  I ran a good 5K with no walk breaks t the Kid's Peace Trick or Trot in Baltimore, and then and even better (compared to current expectations, not my PRs back in my "prime") 10K at at the Rocky Run.  I started running four milers in Manchester, and I could feel myself getting stronger.  And then...

On December 8th, I went out for a five-mile run, hoping to get one five-miler in before the Celtic Solstice race that Saturday.  At about 2.5 miles, my calves were tight and sore, and I made the strategic decision to take a shortcut back to my car.  I hit the three mile mark and began to walk, and I realized from the dead feeling in my legs and the lack of full range of motion in my left ankle due to the swelling, I was having the compartment syndrome symptoms again.

I rested all week, and did a lot of stretching, and felt much better for the Celtic Solstice 5-miler.  I'm not sure I got another run in that week, but the next Saturday (Dec 20), I did 5 miles on the rail trail in which my compartment syndrome was ok, but my right knee was very sore.  I think it's my IT band, and I know I've managed that before with stretching and exercises.  I was not terribly concerned.  Knee pain also limited me to two miles on December 23.

Then, the bad one.  The next time I went out to run was the Saturday after Christmas.  My plan was a 2.5-mile out and back on the rail trail north from Hanover Junction.  I was struggling on the "out" part, and should have known to turn back well before 2.5 miles, because by that point my compartment syndrome symptoms were in full swing, and it was a long walk back to my car.

What the hell?  I've lost most of the last three years of running with this problem, had surgery, and it seemed like I'm no closer to having under control than I was at the end of 2011, and I just don't know why I'm ok -- or mostly ok -- sometimes and then other times I'm in pain after just a mile or two.

I need to find the pattern, and isolate what factors will make a difference, because I just can't let every run be a roll of the dice.  If the specter of compartment syndrome pain hangs over every run, there's no way I can dream of half-marathons and marathons again.

Part of me thinks it's just time I accept that.  Even if I ONLY run distances of two or three miles, it's still good exercise.  I like 5Ks.  I could still probably run them, although usually on my bad compartment syndrome pain runs, it sets in before three miles.

I'm not ready for that, though.  I want to unlock the formula for controlling this, and find out what separates the good symptom runs from the bad.

The first variables I'm playing with are hydration and diet.

I enjoy alcohol in moderation, but when a Christmas party left a huge surplus of beer, I started having a single drink on nights of the week on which I normally would not imbibe at all.  The first run in which my compartment syndrome symptoms flared up was two nights after that party, in which I had several drinks and ate lots of salty foods.  I was probably super dehydrated.  The second bad one, on December 27, was the morning after a friend had had dinner with us the night before.  I didn't drink to excess, but I had more than I would normally have the night before a long run.

In response, I'm drastically cutting back on alcohol consumption.  Since most of my long runs are on Saturday, that means no beer during the week or on Friday night.  It also means I have to really make an effort to drink more water.  I have gout, and I know dehydration is a big trigger for that.  Could that be a contributor for this?

I'm also changing my diet to include more things that are thought to be natural anti-inflammatories. In general, I'm trying to eat more fruits and vegetables, including cherries.

Lots of stretching is also essential.

I set out for my run on Saturday morning, with my legs aching and a heavy heart.  I felt like this run was really important.  If I felt ok, I could go on.  If I felt badly, then it was another data point that pointed back to square one.  I got a reprieve, when sleet and freezing rain started just as I was about to run.

Chris and I did a lot of work clearing out one of our storage rooms, and then we went out and met some friends for drinks.  I was careful to mix in a few glasses of water, too.

Sunday morning, with my legs feeling better as I left the house I ran four miles with a sore knee and no hint of compartment syndrome.  My feeling of relief was huge, but I know that I shouldn't get too high over a single good run, just like you were probably thinking I was getting too low over 2 bad runs in December.

I'm going to continue the changes I made to diet and alcohol consumption, and I also want to implement the following:

1. Make sure I don't just sit around all day.  This is tough because I sit around all day at work.  I need to make sure that in the morning or at lunch, I make some time to walk on the treadmill or go for a short run.  I felt like being up and around on Saturday helped my legs feel better than they had that morning.

2. More commitment to core and leg strength training.  I'm good at doing this when I'm in PT, and I'm good at doing some exercises (squats and calf raises) after I run.  I think I was not doing enough, though.  Not only did I in general run less in December, with so much holiday stuff going on, but that also meant I was missing out on strength training.  I'm sure with running less, and doing these exercises less, my legs got weak again. 

3. Make sure I get my mid-week runs in, even if they're only 2 miles.  In December, I basically ran once a week.  That's not a recipe for success.  I need to make sure I get them in the mornings, because running at lunch is a non-starter.  There are many times (today being one) where I planned to run at lunch and then got too busy to take that full hour for stretching, driving to where I run (my house is just not a safe running area), running, doing post-run stretching, and coming back.  I should have just gone up and run at the park closer to home.  It's hilly, and I'm not ready for that now, but closer distance to my house will make this easier to do in the morning or (maybe) at lunch.

Hopefully, I can manage this because I really don't like the idea that I had surgery for nothing or the thoughts of throwing more surgery at this particular injury or losing another year of long runs.


In this picture, I'm sitting on a park bench and trying to raise my toes to stretch.  The left foot doesn't have the same raise of motion when the symptoms are active. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Celtic Solstice 5-Miler

I was feeling very pessimistic about the Celtic Solstice 5-Miler.  I'd had a run on the previous Monday where my old compartment syndrome symptoms were back and I'd cut an attempt at five miles down to a little over three.  It wasn't terrible, but my calves were very crampy (is that even a word?) and my ankles and seemed swollen, and when I turned around back to my car, I sat down on the curb, just to check, and sure enough, I didn't have the full range of motion in my left foot.

Just as running had started to be something I enjoyed again, it was back to this bullshit.

I rested, doing lots of stretching the rest of the week, and the race actually went ok.  I ran four miles of the five-mile race and didn't have any compartment syndrome symptoms during the race, despite my shins still being pretty achy that morning during the long walks back and forth from the car to the packet pickup area.  (These races at Druid Hill Park are fun, but the parking and traffic situation is a little bit of a mess.)

The race is hilly, with a steep, tough incline at the start, and then more moderate hills after that.  It's not as hilly as Dreaded Druid Hills 10K or, I'm told, the Zoo Zoom 8K, which I believe uses some of the same access roads as the DDH.  I enjoy how the course makes tight loops around the park; normally that would annoy me, but it was nice to be able to watch for Chris as I made the zig-zags around the park.   A significant part of the last 2 miles is around Druid Lake.  It's flat but also boring, and my progress seemed very slow at this point.  I took a one-minuteish walk break at four miles as I was heading around the south side of the lake toward the Moorish Tower, and as I passed the tower with a little over a half-mile (I think) to go, I knew it was literally all downhill from there; the slight incline around the rest of the lake and then down the steep hill we started up.

I finished in 56:33, a far cry from my 42:44 at this race in 2011, one of my best-ever finishes and not-coincidentally my last pre-compartment syndrome race, but a perfectly cromulent finish given my current conditioning and circumstances both within and outside of my control.  It's hard not to be disappointed when I see comparisons like that, but it's important for me to keep reminding myself that during the summer of 2011, I was dropping double-digit mileages several times a week and that I had been in what passes for marathon shape around here, and this summer I had six new surgical scars on my leg and didn't even start running again until mid July.  That simplified explanation ignores that 2012 and 2013 were plagued by injury, but also that there was a lot more I should have been doing to keep myself in shape even when running wasn't going well.


 So, in conclusion, I either should or shouldn't beat myself up too badly over this finish.






Race Review
Falls Road Running puts on a good race, and all their events are both fun and challenging (they have race team that's very competitive, but this race gets participants of all levels), but there's a few small ways that I think this race could be improved.   The start was very chaotic and crowded, so I think some more room in the starting area would help, and also pace signs.  I probably would have ignored them this year, anyway, but I think it would be helpful to at least get the idea in peoples' heads.

There is a good post-race party with hot wine from Boordy Vineyards, fruit, and cookies.  All the cookies were gone by the time we got there, which I thought was definitely not cool, but there were bagpipers at the start, food and beverages (beer was available for purchase) and a Celtic band playing Christmas tunes at the post race party, and a fun, fairly scenic course.  It's a race that I would definitely run again, and probably will. 

Another high point is the swag:  a custom Brooks running jacket that makes the $80 registration fee not seem so high.  You can also do $40 with no premium, but I really like this one:

 


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

64 Degrees

It was 31 degrees, according to the not-very accurate (I am convinced) thermometer at Northeastern High School, for my four-mile runs on Saturday morning and last Wednesday night.

According to the same digital display, it was 64 tonight.  Yikes.  I'm not convinced that it was quite that warm, but t was at least 20 degrees warmer when I headed out for my run at around 6:30 tonight.

I like running in cooler weather, as anyone who reads this blog knows by now, and any other week, I would probably wait it out for cooler temperatures, or run 2 miles tonight and four (which is my current long-run distance) another night.

Except that we're predicted to have 5-8 inches of snow on Wednesday. As much as enjoy running in cold weather, I loathe snow. If I don't get my run in today, who knows when I might?

So I ran it.  It wasn't fun.  My legs felt a lot more tired and I felt a little more out of breath than I did on Saturday, and I'm going to blame the temperature for that, but I'm happy I got some miles in.

Now I'm debating, should I run tomorrow or keep my legs fresh for shoveling? :-(


Saturday, November 22, 2014

I Feel the Need...

I may say that I don't really care about pace, and of course care morning about how far I ran than how fast(ish) I ran it, but:
Wednesday Night:
4 miles, 45:58
This morning, same course:
Niiiiiiiiice.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Rocky Run 10K, Philadelphia



During my running career, there are two races in which I pulled an unexpectedly great performance completely out of my ass.  One was the 2012 Hershey 10K, which I PR'd in 52:33, a 10K time I had never, have never since, and probably will never again, come within 5 minutes of.  

The other was on Saturday, at the inaugural Rocky Run 10K.

I had no business -- no business whatsoever -- trying to run the 10K.  5K is the farthest I'd run since my surgery, and while I've finished that distance a few times without needing walk breaks, I usually needed to take a few, and I'd barely run the previous two weeks prior to this race (due to both some schedule issues and some motivational issues).  I'd needed several walk breaks during the third mile of a 3-mile run on the Wednesday night before the race.  On Saturday, I ran -- other than a stop to drink a cup of water and a short pause to tie a shoe -- 5 miles of this 10K before needing some walk breaks in the last 1.2.

I felt great during the race, and while I am a little sore after the race, it is not nearly as bad as I expected.  But most encouraging to me was that there was not even a hint of compartment syndrome pain, just normal soreness that I'd have after any run that was this challenging.

I couldn't be any more thrilled.  In the span of 1:12:54, my confidence level for the two half marathons I'm signed up for in the spring increased tenfold.  I need to train.  I know I'm not really trained to his level yet (I ran 4 miles on the Wednesday evening after the race, and while my knees hurt, there are again no compartment syndrome symptoms), and that the Celtic Solstice 5-miler in Baltimore's Druild Hill park will be (as "Druid Hill Park" implies) much hillier than this.  But for the first time in well over a year, it feel like longer distances are really possible again. 



But let's back up.

Race Day
Chris and I stayed with friends in south Philly, who kindly picked up our packets in addition to giving us some couch and floor space.  We left for the race, which had a 7:30am start time for the 5K, and an 8:15am start time for the 10K, which we were running, at 6:45, and were over by the starting area around 7:45.

It was freezing!  I like running in the cold, but temperatures were in the 20s and I am not very acclimated or in nearly as good a shape as I was in some of my past running winters, and I -- in my shorts, throwaway knit gloves, long-sleeve t-shirt -- was wishing I had my jacket, more serious gloves, and my cold-weather headband.  



Hilariously, our friends dressed as a chicken (him) and Rocky Balboa (her), hoping to win the race's costume contest by recreating the scene from Rocky II in which Rocky chases a chicken as part of his training.  There were plenty of Rockys, and well, that mostly it.  I did get passed by a few chickens (including my friend), a guy dressed as a giant piece of meat, and even 2 guys in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (representing, though, Rocky's turtles, Cuff and Link).

The race started promptly at 8:15.  I had been debating whether to run with Chris, how follows a modified Galloway plan in which she walks for a minute after every half mile, or use my own plan, a more informal approach of "run as much of the race as I can and then cross my fingers".  My legs felt good, and so I thought I'd run as much as I could without walk breaks.   

The 10K course is an out of back along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (formerly West River Drive).  It was a pleasant, mostly flat course along the scenic Schuylkill River, with a decline down to MLK Dr. from the art museum, meaning an incline at the end.  

I started out at what I felt was a very cautious, measured pace, because I knew if if I went for my old 9-10 min mile pace, I'd have no shot of running most of a distance this far outside my comfort zone.  My strategy worked.  I felt great for the first 3.1 and had plenty left in the tank.  I felt like the second half of the race was more difficult...which I guess is always true on a flat-ish out and back.  Aside from a pause for a water break and a brief re-lacing of my right sneaker, I ran 5 miles before I needed to take a few walk breaks to finish the race.  But running into the sun was challenging.  I'd be lying if I said it was "hot", but the sun was very bright and I was sweating my butt off.  I took my long-sleeve t-shirt off and was more comfortable in just a sleeveless tech shirt, and very glad I didn't have any of my real cold-weather gear to carry.  Even 4 days later, my forehead still feel sunburned.

This race has a lot of personal baggage.  Even though it's across the river from the second half of the Philly Marathon, which follows Kelly Drive out to Manyunk and back, I still had that "running along the Schuykill and wondering if I had enough left to finish" feeling.  Indeed, in that same race back 2011, I remembered at mile 11 and 12, along the same place on MLK Drive, knowing that I felt decent, but not good enough to have the type of second 13.1 I was hoping for.  On the other hand, this time, there was no sign along MLK telling me that I had another 14 miles to run; I just got to run back up the hill toward the Art Museum and finish -- just like in the two Philly Halfs that I count among my best races.

This one is up there with my favorite finishes, even though I know I didn't really earn it.  It will probably be a few weeks before I'm trained up to run a 10K or even 5 miles, but knowing I ran this far without compartment syndrome pain was joyous, and I lost control of my emotions a bit as I came up toward and crossed the finish line.  I finished the Rocky Run 10K, but now my training for the Shamrock Half must begin in earnest.




Race Review
This was a really nice event.  Fun theme, fast, scenic course, great medal, DJ's playing inspirational hits from the Rocky movies along the course, ample port-o-potties at the start, and free photographs.   I'm not sure if this will be an "every year" race because of the logistical challenges of a Philly race (although I said I'd dress as Adrian next year to enhance my friends' costume contest chances), but I would definitely run this again.

There's a few constructive criticisms, though.
  • I'd space out the water stops differently -- there were 2 on the way out, quite close together, and only one on the way back.  I can't complain too much, I certainly could have brought my hydration belt
  • I think I'd send the starters off in a few more waves, it was a very crowded field
  • There was no food at the finish line, only water, or if there was food there wasn't enough of it or it wasn't well-marked. 

Overall, though, a great first-year event with great friends, and a race that definitely has meaning for me as I attempt to make up for lost time in my now three-year quest for revenge.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Down with Couch-to-5K!

Coolrunning.com's Couch-to-5K Program, I'm sure, has helped many, many people begin running and train for their first 5K.  It's been helping me go back from lazy, post-surgeried couch pototato to elite (ha!) marathoner in just a few short weeks.

Again, just kidding.  I've been doing the Couch-to-5K program since July 19, which is 8 weeks.  There were a few "weeks" of the program that I repeated because I felt like I was still struggling to complete them, and then held myself back again over the last two weeks because been sick with some bad summer cold or upper respiratory infection.  Basically, I've been stuck at "week 4" for about 3 weeks now.

And here's the thing -- I think, if I follow the plan, I always would be.  From weeks 1-3, I think the Couch-to-5K progresses pretty reasonably.  I felt like I needed a repeat of week 3, but then bumped myself up to week 4 and was able to complete several times with mixed success (again, allergies and respiratory illness make for bad training partners).  The jump to week 4, where you are running 5 minutes at a time and your walk breaks are NOTICEABLY shorter, is a big one, but I don't think unreasonable.

But there's the thing:  Week 5 is a bitch.

So let me get this straight, Couch-to-5K.  The longest you've had me run is 5 minutes, and one week later, I'm supposed to run TWO MILES?    The progression to those first two workouts of week 5 seems reasonable, but going from running 8 minutes twice with a 5-minute walk in the middle to running for 20 minutes?  It seems like there needs to be another week or two of transition in there.

 Oddly, it seems like once cross this gulf, the plan proceeds pretty reasonably once again, and it seems like the plan is transitioning the trainee from a program of 3 equal workouts per week to two run/walk workouts and then a "long run", which is how must runners train for longer races.  So, in breaking this down and criticizing it, I do think I see the logic behind it.

At any rate, I feel like I could do week 4 over and over and not really be ready for week 5.  It just doesn't seem like, without doing a lot of other cardio (and maybe that's the point, that I should be!) this this is big leap forward to be expected of new runners. 

So, this is where I get off, Couch-to-5K.  I'm back on the "Run half a mile, walk for a minute, run half a mile" plan that Chris and I have used on the 5Ks I've run w/her the past year and a half.  I used this back in January to try to train myself back up, hoping that I'd successfully physical therapy'd myself through injury. I've done this twice now this week, and there was noticeable improvement the second time, but I suspect it had more to do with the weather being 20 degrees cooler than any actual improvement in fitness on my part from Wednesday evening to Saturday morning.

Basically, what happens is I'll do this as-is for a week or two, then hopefully be able to get through the first mile with no walk breaks, but probably still need them on the second mile.  Then, hopefully, the next week or two I'd need the walk break at the end of the first mile, but then be able to get the second mile without walking.  When I can run 2 miles with no walk breaks, I add some back in and try for 3, and after a few weeks of this, I can hopefully run a 5K again.

So yeah, kind of like the Couch-to-5K.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

I don't mean to be bury the lead.  I hate when the Orioles text messages that I get from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network read "Jones hits two hits in 7-2 loss to cubs", but here I am doing the same thing.

After a great long weekend in Atlantic City, where I finished my first post-surgery 5K and just had probably the most fun weekend of the year, I'm going to write about how frustrated I am with myself and with the Couch to 5K program.  The "Chickie's & Pete's Boardwalk 5K" and the fun weekend in AC deserve their own blog post. I don't have time to write it and it deserves to be written when I'm feeling more positive.

Until Tuesday of last week (8/19), it seemed like everything was going well in the Couch to 5K program.  I'd repeated week 3, which is:

Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then do two repetitions of the following:
  • Jog 200 yards (or 90 seconds)
  • Walk 200 yards (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 400 yards (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 400 yards (or three minutes)
But toward the end of the second week I was stretching the three minute runs into 5-minute runs and everything was going well.  

So, week 4:

Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then:
  • Jog 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
  • Walk 1/4 mile (or 2-1/2 minutes)
  • Jog 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
  • Walk 1/8 mile (or 90 seconds)
  • Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
 I did one perfect version of this, on Sunday 8/17, with an extra 3-minute run tacked on the end to bring me back to my car.  I tried again on Tuesday, and was able to complete it, but just felt bad during the run and my legs felt awful for several days after. 

I rested the rest of the week, knowing that the 5K was coming on Saturday.

On Saturday, I completed the 5K, running half a mile walking a minute, repeat.  Legs were sore, but normal, good soreness.  My normal, pre-injury 5K time was around  27 minutes.  We finished the 5K in 45.

Today, I tried to do the same run/walk intervals as the 5K (intending only 2 miles, since I'm trying to train at my roughly my pre-injury training pace, which is closer to a 10:00/mile) and within the first 1/3 of a mile, I was wheezing as if I'd never run before in my life.  My legs felt fine, I just couldn't breathe.

I'm hoping it's just because I forgot my allergy medicine last night and because I tried to run this at the VERY hilly park near our house (I was wheezing way before I hit the big hills, though.)

Meanwhile, though, I think it's back to "Week 3" for a pretty frustrated me.  By the end of "Week 5", I'm supposed to be able to run 2 miles with no walk breaks.  Even before the bad runs last Tuesday and today, I feel like I'm more than a week away from being able to do that.